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Dr. Victor Martin

As of March 29, the area of extreme drought that covered most of Barton and part of Stafford County shrank a bit and moved back to severe status and drought ranging from moderate to exceptional still covers the western two-thirds of the state in spite of recent moisture. It will take a great deal of precipitation to improve the outlook but the recent moisture will help the wheat. Wheat looks much better now than just a week ago. The six to ten-day outlook (April 5 to 9) indicates near normal temperatures and a 33 – 40% of below normal precipitation. The eight to 14-day outlook (April 7 to 13) indicates exactly the same outlook. Cooler temperatures will help the wheat but even normal precipitation will only have the crop hanging on.  

Last week we experienced extreme winds on Tuesday. As the day progressed, the sky grew overcast and dark. However, it wasn’t due to storm clouds but soil, silt and clay particles, blowing up into the atmosphere. People were reminded of the Dust Bowl. Was it as bad as the Dust Bowl? No. Does it point out a problem producers have to get a handle on? Yes.  

Wind erosion is always a potential problem in areas like western Kansas and parts of Oklahoma and Texas. In a nutshell, soils are defined by their sand, silt, and clay content. Silt and clay are much smaller than sand and more easily moved. All three contribute to productive soils but clay is key. It holds water, nutrients, and helps develop soil structure along with organic matter, plant roots, and soil organisms. During a wind erosion event, it’s the silt and clay particles, especially clay, that are transported up into the atmosphere and carried away. Over time this can change soil texture, making soils coarser textured (sandier). The field loses structure along with nutrient and water holding capacity. While soils are continually developing, it can take hundreds of years for just an inch of topsoil to develop, losing this topsoil makes it harder to farm and produce optimal yields. In many parts of the 1930s Dust Bowl, producers are farming the subsoil, the B horizon which is much less fertile and can possess other problems.  

It would be dangerous to think what happened was a rare event. Examining climate/weather patterns indicates extremes of weather, including wind and precipitation levels becoming more and more common. If we do indeed trend toward a drier, more semi-arid climate it is imperative to protect the soil from erosion. Remember the derecho in December. What is the solution?  

• We must find a way to control resistant weeds while minimizing or eliminating tillage. The ground must maintain as much residue as possible on the surface.

• We must find the most diverse crop rotations possible for an area to allow the first point to be successful.

• We should find ways to renovate older windbreaks and establish new ones instead of tearing them out.

• Where practical, establish cover crops instead of fallow to protect the soil and build organic matter.

Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207, or